5 things not to tell someone who's facing mental health issues

Oct 14, 2022 01:10 PM IST

It is important to support people who face mental health issues in the right way. Expert on what to not say to someone with depression or anxiety.

It is heart-breaking to see someone close to you suffering from depression, anxiety or other such health issue. The invisible impact of mental health can be felt in every aspect of life. People with mental health issues may look at the world differently and what you tell them can make a great difference. Losing interest in daily activities, meeting friends, experiencing sleep issues, hopelessness, extreme mood changes, confused thinking are all symptoms of poor mental health. Choosing your words carefully that reassures your friends can be extremely helpful, on the other hand, words or reactions that are not expressed well or a bit insensitively could adversely impact them. Generalising their issues, comparing them to others or suggesting them solutions that are difficult for them to apply can make them feel miserable about themselves. (Also read: 8 positive things to tell a person struggling with depression)

Even though your intentions are good and all you want to do is offer support and comfort, you might just accidentally end up saying something unhelpful or damaging(unsplash )
Even though your intentions are good and all you want to do is offer support and comfort, you might just accidentally end up saying something unhelpful or damaging(unsplash )

“Mental health has become one of the most talked-about topics in today's time. However, despite the increasing awareness about this issue, not everyone knows how to connect with someone suffering from a mental health condition. The biggest challenge is finding the right thing to say or do when someone you love is on the verge of a mental breakdown. Even though your intentions are good and all you want to do is offer support and comfort, you might just accidentally end up saying something unhelpful or damaging," says Dr Bharghav Sirivelu, Psychiatry, Apollo 24|7.

Here are some things that are best left unsaid, as per Dr Bharghav.

1. Don't say anything that belittles their suffering

While talking about the problems in life, people often think it’s helpful to say things like:

“Don’t be sad. Things could be worse!”

“There are people who have it even harder.”

“I get it! I almost had a panic attack when I couldn’t find my phone this morning.”

Comparing someone's mental health issues to other people's problems or your own irrelevant experiences belittles their pain. It is essential to understand that depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues don't necessarily have a trigger. Moreover, if you cannot acknowledge their condition, do not make it worse by making them feel guilty about being sad.

2. Don’t be dismissive

You might not realise it, but even simple statements that you toss off thoughtlessly can be interpreted as dismissive. It is very common for people to say things like:

“Snap out of it!”

“Cheer up!”

“Let it go!”

“Calm down!”

“Just don’t worry about it.”

Saying something like this trivialises their feelings and can make someone feel like they’re making a big deal out of nothing. It makes it seem like they have a choice in the matter and they can just flick a switch and “get over it”. These statements can send quite a damaging message that mental health issues are something that can and should be ignored.

3. Don’t suggest magic cures

Anyone suffering from a mental health condition has definitely heard well-meaning comments and suggestions like:

“Have you tried yoga?”

“Why don’t you give meditation a try?”

“Try drinking chamomile tea.”

It’s natural and completely understandable that all you want to do is help. However, it is important to understand that it is nothing more than a misconception to think that meditation, yoga, or other wellness trends can cure anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. While these practices can certainly help support the treatment for many people, every individual has different needs and only they can tell what works for them.

4. Don't express disbelief

Another very common reaction when people come across someone suffering from a mental health condition is disbelief. You can often find people saying something like:

“But you always seem so happy!”

“I thought you had a great life.”

But you don't look depressed!

“But you haven’t been acting any different.”

“You don’t look sad/anxious.”

One of the most essential things you need to understand about mental health issues is that they can affect anyone, even those who seem to have it all. Lately, world-famous celebrities have also opened up about their own struggle with mental health conditions. Most people pretend to hide behind a mask of happiness and don't feel comfortable revealing how they truly feel. Some feel that pretending to be happy is a good coping mechanism. Whatever the case may be, making statements that showcase such disbelief can look like you are dismissing their feelings.

5. Avoid platitudes

When you want to help someone with a mental health problem, platitudes may seem like a good idea. However, they aren’t. It’s very common to offer up advice and statements like:

"This too shall pass."

“Tomorrow is another day.”

"You'll get over it."

While these cliched remarks are offered up in a kind-hearted and heartfelt manner, they don’t offer much hope. Not only do statements like these show that you have no understanding of what the person is going through but they also give the impression that mental health problems are something that will pass on their own.

"It's vital to remember that mental health can be improved. Make sure that your loved ones have access to professional help if they need it. If you want to help, just let the person know they are not alone and you’ll be there to listen and lend a hand whenever they need it," concludes Dr Bharghav.

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